I am a collector! Most of us are, to some degree. The popularity of TV shows such as "Antiques Road Show," "American Pickers" and "Pawn Stars" attests to that. I have been a collector most of my life. As a kid I collected almost everything most boys collect—stamps, coins, comic books, bottle caps, match book covers (they once were popular business advertisements), marbles, tourist attraction pennants (they were superseded by bumper stickers and t-shirts), baseball cards, post cards, cereal give-aways, plastic models, rocks and probably some things I no longer remember. Of all these collections, the only one I still have is the stamps, which I kept for sentimental reasons. Family members, including my grandparents in Germany, contributed to it.
But I still collect. I have an interest in anything related to railroads or trains, so it was only natural that my collecting progressed in that direction. Railroad ephemera (railroadiana) I collected over the years included date nails, timetables, maps, post cards, uniform buttons, passes, calendars, advertising, old magazines, books, photos and toy trains. I gave up on all of these except the last three. I like the all-color train photo books published in recent years, and I am an avid train photographer. Long-time readers of the Journal may remember a story about my toy train collection, and some may remember seeing some of it in the Nevada Public Library showcase several years ago. The collection has been thinned out since then, but I kept my favorite pieces, such as a Marx train Linda’s parents bought at a garage sale for me many years ago. They gave it to me at Christmas and it was my favorite present that year.
Collecting can get out of hand when the passion for acquiring becomes all-consuming. Many of you probably have followed the heartbreaking story recently in the news of the animal hoarder from Drakesville, Iowa. Authorities found a varied lot of more than 350 neglected and dead animals, from rabbits and hamsters to chickens and pigs (even some exotic cockroaches), at this "collector’s" residence that he was not able to feed or care for. He now faces a number of charges for animal neglect.
If not careful, collectors of all ilks can find themselves in troublesome situations of their own making. I started collecting toy trains in the early 1970s when we lived in Lexington, Ky. I became part of an informal group of collectors who had a round robin meeting once a month at each others’ homes. One member of our group, an executive with IBM, nearly lost his position, due to his collecting activities. Back then toy trains were still easily found at garage sales, auctions and flea markets. He scanned the newspaper classified ads early each morning for mention or hints of toy trains, and if he found any ads that were promising, he left work for hours at a time, pursuing those leads. IBM finally gave him an ultimatum - stop looking for trains on company time or lose your job. They also transferred him to a branch in another city.
I cannot say that I am completely untainted by overzealous collecting. One of the frustrations of railroad photography is that the subject, such as a locomotive, often is too distant or is too obscured by surrounding vegetation or structures for a good photo. For a rail photographer, Council Bluffs is ideal, with criss-crossing tracks and a steady parade of trains that mostly can be photographed from public property. But one time I found a particularly interesting locomotive that I just had to photograph. To my dismay, it was too distant from the street for a decent shot. Determined to get the photo, I parked on and crossed over private property marked "no trespassing" to get closer. After taking a couple shots, I heard a few ominous short blasts of a siren. I turned around to see a local policeman in a squad car beckoning me over. He knew what I was doing and that I intended no harm, but I received a lecture on respecting private property and a stern warning!
Linda has learned to live with the quirks of a dedicated collector oriented to trains. She knows that when we go exploring a new community, before long we will end up in the least desirable part of town—the industrial district— because that’s where the trains are. She thinks that in general, train fans and collectors are a strange bunch (I suppose that includes me!). Although I am not always successful, in my collecting activities I have tried to keep in mind the philosophy of a great train collector and fine individual I met some years ago. He had an extensive collection of old and rare toy trains, but was missing one particularly rare and valuable Lionel train from the 1930s, which would have made his collection more complete. He was sufficiently wealthy, so cost was not an issue. When I asked why he did not have this train, he said he had had several opportunities to purchase one; however, collecting toy trains was only a hobby and there were so many other, more useful purposes for which the money could be used. "It is important to keep everything in perspective," he said. Words of wisdom for all of us collectors!
(Pete Korsching is a Nevada resident and a freelance columnist for the Nevada Journal.)